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Rockin’ and rollin’ in their 50s: Meet Loree Dalgo and Cheri Salvetti

by Elaine Stevens//

Unless you are a hermit on one of the Gulf Coast’s barrier islands, you have heard them, seen them, danced to their music, and probably even sang along with them — after a couple of cocktails! Loree Dalgo and Cheri Salvetti are without a doubt two of the most talented and attractive women on the local music scene. They both fell in love with music at age 5. And, would you believe, half a century later, they are still rockin’ the Coast? Age is not a barrier. Talent is their gift. Music is their passion. And, we are the beneficiaries.

A natural talent

Loree Dalgo and her seven siblings have been theater performers since early childhood. It came naturally to the buoyant blonde. Born in Newport Beach, Calif., she was brought up in a house of music with her singing U.S. Marine father and terpsichorean mother. Dalgo’s first audition was with a musical theater group under the direction of actor Buddy Ebsen’s (Jed Clampett on Beverly Hillbillies) then-wife, Nancy. “We also put on shows for the neighbors, who paid to see us in the garage.”

Moving to Mississippi in 1974, Dalgo says she took some courses here and there but her theatrical and musical prowess is mostly self-taught. “I worked with bands on the Coast for 10 years in the 70s and 80s. Ironically, my drummer from back then in the band Shiloh, David Whitehead, is my drummer today.”

The band today is called Blondefire. Dalgo, a petite blonde who looks much younger than her age, sounds like a cross between Janis Joplin and Melissa Etheridge, though she says she studied the styles of Ronstadt and Streisand. “I’ve always had a lot of energy, but there’s something about performing that drives and motivates me,” Dalgo says.

Dalgo recently celebrated her 60th birthday but she entertains on stage like a millennial — certainly not a senior citizen! “My training in dance and years of running have definitely been beneficial as well. Singing is like breathing to me; it energizes me daily.”

Dalgo’s four grown children — Layla, 31; Adam 28; Cody 27; and Savee, 21— also are musically talented, having taken the Dalgo curriculum of dance, music, and mastering instruments.  Today Adam and Cody are the ones following in their mother’s footsteps.

Dalgo notes the music business has changed dramatically.

“It used to be back in the day, we played five or six nights a week; you were at a place all week and that was your living. Nowadays, it’s two nights a week, thanks to the economy,” Dalgo says.

It’s no secret the music industry is tough in every way, from the late nights to the smoky gigs. However, Dalgo’s passion persists. When she isn’t rockin’ n rollin’ with Blondefire, she is teaching or directing.

Her advice to others pursuing music, “If this is your calling, work hard, practice every day, be strong … and be prepared for criticism along with compliments.”

Dalgo says Beyonce sings it best:

“I was here, I did, I’ve done

Everything that I wanted and it was more than I thought it would be

I will leave my mark so everyone will know

I was here.”

Chasing her dream

In 1972, a bold sixth-grade student in Syracuse, N.Y., informed her band director that she wanted to play drums. His response, “Are you sure you don’t want to play the flute?” Females simply weren’t drummers, until Karen Carpenter showed the music world it could be done. That’s when Cheri Salvetti, said to herself she could do it, too. The mostly self-taught, slim 56-year old blonde beauty — and grandmother — is playing drums consistently in Gulf Coast music venues today more than 40 years later. As part of the upbeat trio called Sicily Swing Band, now playing Sundays afternoons at Mosaic Tapas Restaurant & Bar in Ocean Springs, Salvetti also represents other musical talents through her business Island of Rhythm Entertainment. However, the journey of success has been a long and winding road.

Intent on becoming the next Julie McCoy of “Loveboat” fame, Salvetti pursued a degree in recreational leadership in college, leaving her musical career in the shadows for a number of years. She met and married her husband when she was 21, thus happily fulfilling her mother’s wished-for fate for her daughter. “My mother used to say to me, ‘What do you think you are going to do when you are 40 years old? Play rock n’ roll?’ ” Salvetti recalls. “She wanted me to have the husband-child-white picket fence- lifestyle.”

Well, for a decade Salvetti fulfilled her mother’s wishes. The marriage eventually went south — literally — after the couple moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It was the early 90s and she met, heard, and befriended, popular Southern rock and blues artist Lisa Mills. “We became fast friends. Our daughters played together,” she recalls. Ironically, so did Salvetti and Mills — on and off for years, up until Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

At 33, Salvetti found herself a single parent of a 3-year-old toddler. “We followed our dreams separately,” she says. “I realized music is my true love.” Salvetti became part of Fixations, a band her mother named. “My mother died in 2001, but she did get to see me at age 40 playing rock n’ roll.”

Over the years, Salvetti’s music transported her around the country, from out West to the Florida Keys, thus opening up a world of musicians, contacts, gigs, and the synchronicities of life. “Never burn bridges because sooner or later you will play with the other musicians you are competing with.” She has played with three of Jimmy Buffet’s band members, and popular Parrot Head frontrunner, James “Sunny Jim” White, who wrote “Blame it on the Rum,” made famous in the film “The Firm” with Tom Cruise. In fact, it was Sunny Jim who poured sunshine into Salvetti’s life post-Katrina.

“He asked me to play with him at Meeting of the Minds in Key West, the largest Parrot Head event in the world!” she recalls. “It was a dream come true for me at that time.” The weeklong extravaganza allowed Salvetti to play at different resorts and bars every night. “I was really on cloud 9 when his fan club showed up at a private reception he hosted and I was signing autographs, too — my little twinge of fame.”

Versatile in many fields, Salvetti’s talents extend beyond her music. Her successful photography business, Personal Paparazzi, takes her on the road between New Orleans and Destin frequently. Other interests include bodybuilding, where she placed third in a New York state competition in 1984, windsurfing, and even a real estate rental business.

Her future will always include music. “I think I will play music for as long as I can … maybe the rest of my life.” Whatever Salvetti chooses among her many other interests as the years progress — photographing beautiful landscapes and wildlife, going on safari, visiting Italy — be assured it will be done with confidence and class.